AI WU, PEN NAME OF TANG DAOGENG (1904—1992) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

AI WU, PEN NAME OF TANG DAOGENG (1904—1992). Fiction writer and essayist. Born into an intellectual family in a small town of southwestern China, Ai Wu spent his formative years in the company of liberal educators and progressive magazines that advocated discarding China’s traditional culture in order to transform it into a modern nation. To experience the life of the working class, called for by the leftist movement, Ai Wu left his hometown at the age of 21 and traveled south to Yunnan and Burma, often in the company of small merchants, horse thieves, and other such vagrant personalities. The journey became the source of his most important work, Nan xingj ji (Journey to the South), as well as the catalyst for his ideological conversion to communism. In 1929, while stranded in Rangoon, he joined the Burmese branch of the Malaysian Communist Party.

The most memorable characters in Nan xing ji are vagrants who live on the fringes of society. Life in the picaresque world of border towns and villages that had attracted Ai Wu proved to be appealing to his readers as well. With the publication of Nan xing ji, Ai Wu was established as a serious writer of literature. Fengrao de yuanye (Fertile Plains), Guxiang (My Native Land), and Shanye (Mountain Wilderness), three novels set against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese War, explore the social fabric of the war-torn Chinese countryside and the role morality and tradition play during the national crisis.

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Ai Wu was elected a member of the All-China Federation of Writers and Artists and served as a council member of the Chinese Writers’ Association. He published Bai Lian cheng gang (The Tempering of Steel), and Nan xing ji xubian (Sequel to Journey to the South), which extol ordinary citizens whose sense of collectivism and loyalty to the party are depicted as the driving force behind Communist China’s success. During the Cultural Revolution (1966—1976), like many other writers of his generation, Ai Wu was forced to abandon his writing and was not allowed to resume it until the end of the turbulent decade. Throughout his literary career, Ai Wu remained committed to the belief that the responsibility of a writer was to champion the working class and to create realist portraits of ordinary men and women.